Energy is an aspect of almost every human activity: we use it to heat our homes, fuel our cars, plough our soil and power our machinery. Harnessing the world’s energy supply has raised standards of living to previously unimaginable heights, and we are so accustomed to energy use that we can scarcely imagine life without a readily available energy supply. So what is there to worry about?
First, we need to understand where energy comes from. Energy sources can be divided into two categories: renewable and non-renewable.
Use the activities below to design a teaching session on clean and efficient energy sources.
Ask your students to list as many energy sources as they can and to divide them into the two categories. Write the list on the blackboard. For scientists and energy professionals, the main energy categories include coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, biomass, solar, wave or tidal, wind, hydropower (rivers and streams) and geothermal. Your students may come up with variations on this list that are also acceptable: plough animals, batteries, charcoal, gasoline, propane, human beings, water, wood.
Ask students to estimate how much of the energy we use in Europe (or in your country) comes from renewable energy sources. In Europe, energy is mainly obtained from the burning of fossil fuels, which account for 56 percent of total energy production (compared to 82.5 percent in the U.S. and 91 percent in China). Nuclear energy accounts for 35 percent of Europe’s primary energy, while renewable energy sources provide 9 percent. Distribute the info sheet to provide the basis for discussion.
A future without fossil fuels
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Ask your students to list all the ways in which they use energy in their daily lives. You can do this either by dividing the class into small groups, or by asking each student to write their own list. Ask the students to make their lists as comprehensive as possible, but to restrict the list to the energy the students use personally (e.g. for their smartphone, to travel to and from school, to make popcorn etc.).
Then ask them to think of ways of saving energy in the case of each item on their list. This might include turning off electronic appliances when not in use, turning off household lights and making the best use of daylight, replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LED or fluorescent bulbs, unplugging phone chargers when not in use, setting computers to sleep or hibernate, purchasing energy-efficient appliances, turning the thermostat down, using household appliances more efficiently, lowering the brightness of computer monitors and TV screens, measuring energy use via a smartphone app etc.
To give your students more ideas about tips and techniques for reducing energy consumption, hand out the info sheet.
Ask the students to think about where the energy they use comes from (e.g. direct source or energy company). What do they think about the source? Would they change it if they could? Do they have any proposals or suggestions of their own?
Cities can do a great deal to influence the energy choices of their citizens. Many cities and towns have energy efficiency programmes that, for example, help families with the initial investment in renewable technologies (e.g. solar panels), provide subsidies for home insulation, or encourage renewable use by introducing two-way grids that can both supply electricity and buy it from households that produce their own power.
Stand up to standby!
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Ask the class to take a mental trip into the future. In 2050, their city might run entirely on renewable energy:
Ask your students to read the two case studies from Utrecht and Frankfurt:
EVA-Lanxmeer: A renewable energy community
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Frankfurt 2050 zero-carbon masterplan
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Science classes can study the various processes power plants use to generate electricity.
Students can build solar box cookers, solar water heaters or small wind machines in technology/science class, or a photovoltaic cell in chemistry class (using strawberries and blueberries as materials).
The class could visit an electricity generation plant.
Students could write articles for the school newspaper about renewable energy sources and how they could be (or already are being) used by the school.
Electric appliances have labels that indicate how much power they require (usually in watts or amps). Ask students to record the power requirements of all the electric appliances they use at home. In class, you can help students rank their energy use, from their largest consumers of electricity to the smallest (e.g. refrigerators use more electricity than televisions):
With the assistance of an expert or teacher with measurement tools, students can look for energy leaks in their school and report their findings to the maintenance staff.